Most of the children in kindergarten have a positive attitude to starting school, and are greatly looking forward to it. The children expect to have nice teachers, make new friends and do well. The Danish National Council for Children’s study entitled “School – as seen from kindergarten”, gives some insight into the expectations and notions of nearly one thousand 5- and 6-year-olds about school. However, the study also revealed that just less than one-third of the children fear they will be teased at school, and roughly one-fourth believe school will be difficult, or they doubt that they will make friends.
Well-being in kindergarten is highly significant for children’s expectations about school.
‘Children who like kindergarten are more likely to look forward to starting school. They are more likely to like writing letters and using numbers, and they expect that they are going to do well. It appears that children who like kindergarten, also expect to thrive in a new context. On the other hand, children who do not like kindergarten are more likely not to be looking forward to school. They’re afraid the teachers will be strict’, remarks Stine Lindberg, a children’s specialist at the National Council for Children, and the driving force behind the study.
‘Children who like kindergarten are more likely to look forward to starting school.’
CHILDREN ARE EXPERTS ON THEIR OWN LIVES
She points out that earlier studies conducted by the National Council for Children have shown a close link between well-being and doing well at school.
‘Well-being and doing well at school go hand in hand. It is important that we promote well-being for the children. To create a good school experience, we must create a good kindergarten experience. This is a significant point that was confirmed by the study. Naturally, it isn’t too late to change when a child starts school, but it tends to take more effort’, Lindberg elaborates.
“School – as seen from kindergarten” is the fourth in a series of studies made by the National Council for Children among the children on the Mini Children’s Panel. The Mini Children’s Panel is comprised of roughly 1000 kindergarteners from all over the country. The purpose of the panel is to hear and heed the voices of society’s youngest citizens.
‘Even though the children are the ones starting school, it is usually the adults’ views about the children that attract the most attention when transitions are being planned. The Mini Children’s Panel is based on the idea that everyone is an expert on his or her own life; children are experts on their own lives. They are the only ones who know how they experience the world, including, for example, what they envisage school to be like. The most important task of the National Council for Children is to give children a voice in the public debate. Accordingly, it is important to ask children questions directly’, Lindberg goes on.
ROW UPON ROW OF QUIET CHILDREN
What do children think it will be like to go to school? What do they say? Many of the children expect it will be fun, although every fourth child fears it will be boring, and every third child thinks it will be difficult.
Their preconceived notions about school simply do not paint a picture of a modern school. On the contrary, they envisage a traditional school where the teachers are strict, where the older children tease the younger ones, and where school work is monotonous.
‘Children have stereotypical notions about school. Some children talk about school as being tantamount to a discipline factory, with strict teachers and row upon row of quiet children who have to raise their hands to speak.’ Lindberg also points out that children have a notion of the school as a place to get into mischief and be rowdy, also with the teachers.
‘Where do these notions come from? Are they from popular culture? Are they from parents, siblings, educators?’ asks Lindberg.
She urges those involved in kindergarten and school to try to project more nuanced images – not least when it comes to notions about the children’s own roles.
‘The fact that almost every third child thinks they are going to be teased at school may be related to the notions they have about school. Many children’s films and books are about someone being teased, for example, like the classic Danish children’s book entitled “Rubber Tarzan”‘, Lindberg expounds.
She also points out that there is still far too much teasing and bullying at school, so this is not about overlooking the problems; it is more about calling attention to the important social aspects of going to school.
The study indicates that kindergarten colours children’s expectations about school. Many children engage in kindergarten activities intended to prepare the children for starting school, and these have a strong impact on the children. Some children label themselves as having a particular school identity long before they actually start school, for example, they might see themselves as trouble makers. For that reason, early childhood educators can arguably try to challenge stereotyped notions about school, just as they can help challenge children’s notions about what going to school will be like.
MORE THAN AN ACADEMIC PROJECT
Occasionally, when children are asked questions, adults get unexpected answers. For example, it turns out that knowing the location of the lavatories at school is of great importance for making a good transition. The study indicates that familiarity with the new physical layout of the school is of great importance to the children.
‘The children mention the lavatories in particular, and it is very important to them that they know where the facilities are located. Lavatories also have social significance, a fact worth bearing in mind when schools will be welcoming new children’, Stine Lindberg emphasises. One important point emerging from the study is that children are concerned about both the social and the academic aspects of school.
‘Children in Denmark start kindergarten at an early age and spend many hours there every day. This is where the foundation is laid for basic social skills that can prove decisive for whether school will be a positive experience. At the most basic level, one might say that it is more important to learn to be part of a community than it is to learn letters and numbers. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. The children are aware of this, since both social and academic challenges are important factors in children’s notions about school’, concludes Lindberg.